Indianapolis Colts Late August Scouting Report
The biggest one was the decision on the replacement for eccentric ProBowl P Pat McAfee, who you may recall suddenly retired at the top of his craft in the offseason. Immediately in the free agency period, the Colts signed veteran P Jeff Locke to a two year deal (the first guy new GM Chris Ballard signed) and it appeared that he had the job sewn up. Locke is one of the best at placing the ball inside the 20 and without a return, and his net punting was solid in preseason. Then along came a highly regarded undrafted free agent rookie named P Rigoberto Sanchez, who probably is only known to anyone reading this because he got cheap shot blown up during preseason action! He did have a far superior gross punting average, knocking them almost 47 yards per punt, but his net was not as high as Locke. He also has good directional skills and in a pinch can serve as a placekicker. Today the Colts surprisingly released Locke, choosing to go with the rookie from Hawaii as their punter and kickoff specialist. It remains to be seen if he will remain as the placeholder for veteran PK Adam Vinatieri, so keep an eye on that as you draft him. The final portion of the special teams triad is also going to be new as the Colts traded their only devoted long snapper (a rookie out of Duke) to the Jets today for journeyman S Ronald Martin. This leaves undrafted rookie LB Luke Rhodes as the man to snap, although he is still learning the craft and actually has been a demon in the base defense in preseason. His ability to serve as a valuable backup LB probably made the difference in his selection for the role. The Colts this week also signed another journeyman S Earl Wolff and a few young corners in CB Chris Culliver and CB Corey White. Clearly the team had a need for some upgrades or depth at these two positions (especially safety) but I am not sure I see that these new guys actually provide anything more than some camp bodies for the final preseason game.
The team has actually managed to endure a fair number of key injuries already during this preseason. Just this week in the 3rd preseason game, they lost ProBowl shutdown CB Vontae Davis to a groin injury. The fact that he is seeking a second opinion on the injury seems like a "not good" sign to me, but I will refrain from speculating until I hear more from someone on the team. They are already playing without the heart of the questionable offensive line as C Ryan Kelly has been held out all preseason with a foot injury that required surgery may actually linger into the regular season. Veteran C Brian Schwenke was brought in to be his backup, but has been on PUP all camp until just last week; he will be the man to snap the ball until Kelly is back. WR Donte Moncrief has been held out of contact all throughout preseason due to aggravating the same shoulder that cost him so many games last season; he was back in action in the 3rd preseason game, but they are still going to hold him out a bunch until week 1.
Of course the big story is that QB Andrew Luck still has not practiced and there "is no timetable for his return" according to Coach Pagano. Very telling is that last week, Pagano was asked how many practice Luck would need to be able to start in week 1, and he said "seven." But with the short week to prep for the final preseason game he won’t see practice time this week….and that leaves only six practices left before week 1. They have until this Saturday to decide if Luck will be on the active roster or start the season on PUP, but I think it would take a huge regression to have the Colts agree to keep him out and not practicing for 6 weeks. No, he will be a game day inactive until he is ready to start, and the Colts will carry a 3rd quarterback and cost themselves a valuable depth roster spot. I think it is safe to assume that QB Scott Tolzien will start in week one over QB Stephen Morris, but not because Tolzien has done anything stellar to earn it. He was better in the preseason win in Pittsburgh this week, but that was a low bar to achieve. His YPA is still under 5 for the preseason and the offense has not looked good in his care. Then again with the continued flux and inconsistency of the offensive line (again….) it does not really matter until Luck is back to being Luck under center. Every Colt fantasy player takes a hit with only RB Frank Gore coming close to retaining his value. I suspect Tolzien will barely see action in the final preseason game to protect him for the regular season -- although the coaching staff has not ruled out Morris as the starter yet, I would be quite surprised. In any case, he is not a viable fantasy option regardless of opponent even in 2-QB leagues.
Here is what you need to know for the short term regarding the fantasy values of the Colts. Luck is still a draft bargain going off the boards at greater than the #10 quarterback. All you need is a guy with good early season matchups, and Carson Palmer or Eli Manning are great fits for a handcuff that I recommend. Gore is one of the most undervalued players at any position in the drafts this year, and he will give you #2 numbers at a #4 midround draft price. I have concerns about all the receivers, especially WR TY Hilton until Luck is back; Hilton goes from a low-end #1 to a low end #2 without a healthy Luck. TE Jack Doyle might be okay to get a slight uptick in the percentage of targets he gets, but I suspect that they will not throw the ball anywhere near as much with Tolzien so his volume should still suffer. I worry about Vinatieri due to the changes in holder and long snapper who were the league’s best duo the last few years, as well as the inefficiency of the offense. I still like the defense as a solid streaming option through the first 7 weeks of the season, including week 1 in Los Angeles against Goff and the Rams. The first unit has been forcing turnovers in the preseason despite a lot of backups and injuries in the secondary, led by new signee LB John Simon (a sneaky IDP pickup) who has caused three in very limited action.
That is all for now from the Crossroads of America. I will be back next week to preview week 1 of the NFL season for the Colts -- I only hope I get to talk about Luck wearing a helmet and shoulder pads instead of a sweatsuit and ballcap! Until then friends, remember to remain….COLTSTRONG!!
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